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Fee fiasco won’t stop St. John's sci-fi convention

Jeff Power, who found himself mired in controversy in 2017 over Avalon Expo 3, vows to stage Avalon Expo 4 this summer in St. John’s.
Jeff Power, who found himself mired in controversy in 2017 over Avalon Expo 3, vows to stage Avalon Expo 4 this summer in St. John’s. - Barb Sweet

Troubled Avalon Expo a go this summer in St. John’s, Jeff Power says

The show is going on for the Avalon Expo this year, says organizer Jeff Power, who found himself mired in a fiasco at last year’s event when a Hollywood actor publicly blasted him over unpaid fees.

“If people want an apology, this is the apology,” Power told The Telegram this week while vowing to stage Avalon Expo 4.

In August 2017, the Avalon Expo 3 went down with a great big thud.

The annual three-day sci-fi/fantasy/comics convention ended with at least one celebrity guest saying he was stiffed by Power, and Power being the subject of a missing person report with the police.

“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” star René Auberjonois was one of the celebrity guests at 2017’s Avalon Expo, and took to Twitter to express his frustration.

“We’re being stiffed and (Power has) run out on the hotel bill, so this is a total clusterf**k,” the actor had tweeted.

“Hope you find the squirrely promoter,” a Twitter user responded.

“He better hope I don’t,” Auberjonois replied.

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Power had vanished sometime between the Saturday night and Sunday of the convention. The RNC received a missing person report about Power around 9 p.m. Sunday.

Along with Auberjonois, celebrity guests that year included “Doctor Who” actor Colin Baker and voice actors Linda Ballantyne and Katie Griffin of “Sailor Moon.”

As Power organizes this summer’s event, he has already put in a tough year.

He had gone to the police after hearing of the missing person report and was advised to go to St. Clare’s to be checked, as friends were worried about his well-being, then was cleared to go home.

Afterward, he took time off work, moved to a better apartment to improve his living situation and has had plenty of time to reflect on what happened.

He still owes Auberjonois money, along with Baker. He owes friends and businesses.

He owes tens of thousands of dollars, and while his wages were reduced from that time off work, he said he intends to pay everyone back.

As he incorporated this year’s Avalon Expo for the first time, any debts from the event’s past were on him, he said.

He is braced for some backlash.

“People have negative opinions of what I did and so on. They don’t know the full story, but I am not saying they shouldn’t have that negative opinion. I’m not trying to come out and look like I didn’t do anything wrong. I did. I hurt people, including my friends.”

He says he’s not sure if this summer’s event will be the last one he puts on.

But it’s clear Power remains passionate about Avalon Expo and the justification for it as another draw for the sci-fi and fantasy community. He said he did a poll after last year’s event and people wanted it to continue, as a summer event. He remains convinced there are volunteers willing to help this year and the vendors will sign on as well.

Power said Avalon Expo was never meant to draw the massive numbers of the well-established Sci-Fi on the Rock.

So how did it all go wrong?

In 2017, Avalon Expo was held for the first time at Mile One Centre, after previous years at smaller venues such as the Re/Max Centre and Centre des Grand-Vents.

The greatest misstep might have been when Power went to Hali-Con in Nova Scotia in the fall of 2016 — while organizing 2017’s Avalon Expo — and saw the massive crowd drawn to one of the Sailor Moon actors he had already booked.

He thought he might need a bigger venue, which led to ideas he might need much bigger guests.

“So that was the single moment,” he said of how it all started to go awry.

“If people want an apology, this is the apology." — Jeff Power

He approached Mile One and thought he would be able to draw big numbers in August 2017.

Power said it was the year he hoped not to put his own finances into Avalon Expo and the year he hoped it would at least break even and maybe make money.

“I did the math. … There was math involved and everything looked fine,” he said.

There had also been a misstep at gauging turnout at a smaller event in Gander in 2017 and spending too much on that.

The idea of losing money on such smaller events was that the big event would pay for them.

Everything built up to the fiasco that was Avalon Expo 3.

Instead of 2,500 people that would have left Avalon Expo in a fine positon, less than 1,500 turned out. It was the biggest one yet, but it wasn’t enough.

The organizer’s worst-case scenario was realized.

“This is one of the financial calamities. I anticipated a lot more people,” he said.

Maybe it had something to do with other major events held the same weekend, including Eastbound Hoedown.

One thing that happened was personal and unexpected, Power said — the lasting effects of an earlier grief that snuck up on him and then hit full force.

His grandfather had died in 2016.

He said Baker — the former Dr. Who — reminded him of his grandfather, which then reminded him of wanting to do better by his grandfather in the trying times leading up to his death.

“And here was Colin Baker, who I was effectively about to screw out of his fee,” Power said.

Power said he had also been dealing with some depression and fatigue as he tried to organize Avalon Expo, and the condition of his apartment was less than ideal at the time.

“I used to come home from work many days and lay on my bed, get up the next day and go to work and that was my day,” he said.

So, when things started looking bad that Avalon Expo weekend, he couldn’t face it.

“I wasn’t thinking straight,” he said. “At the time … it made sense to me (to avoid it). … Rene and Colin. I would have been talking to them and I would have had to lie to them. I couldn’t lie to them. I couldn’t tell them the truth.”

So he disappeared.

Still, he said, his van with the Avalon Expo magnets could have been spotted at the Avondale Trans-Canada Highway exit.

His uncle located him at his aunt’s cabin near there and told him people were looking for him. By that time, he had fallen down a hill and lost his phone, he said.

He drove back to town and went to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

After being checked at the hospital, he failed also to get back to a lot of people, although he did put a statement on social media, he said.

But he said he’s in a better place now, is working on mending some friendships and has been in touch with representatives of Auberjonois and Baker with promises to pay them what he owes.

“I spent some time out of town, which was good. I’m happy to get back to work. I’m really happy to move in my new place,” he said.

As for this year’s Avalon Expo, he said he has learned hard financial lessons and lessons about pegging everything on turnout and this year will have a different approach.

He’s already got a guest booked from the world of Steampunk — a Victorian-based sci-fi genre.

Avalon Expo 4 is planned to take place Aug. 24-26, this time back at the Re/Max Centre in St. John’s, Power said.

“It’s an exciting thing for a lot of people. So, I think it should continue,” he said.

“A lot of people really enjoy it and there’s a lot of people who get so much out of it.

“If it was just about what personal benefit I get out of it, I do get personal benefit out of it, but it’s not the tangible kind. Certainly, in terms of tangible kinds of things I have certainly lost a lot more than I have gotten back.”

barbara.sweet@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @bsweettweets

With files from 2017 stories by Tara Bradbury

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